On Tuesday, Red Cup Rebellion and I had a fantastic discussion all about Oxford and the tailgating nirvana that is the Grove. Today, we move on to the football portion of our conversation.
Before you read the rest of this post, however, head over to RCR where the first half of this football discussion is posted. After you've read that, return to this post, where the conversation continues. Go on, it's alright; this'll still be here for you when you get back.
Beyond the variety of looks that Ole Miss will get from Diaz's defensive attack, the other key component of this year's defense is, as I mentioned, the secondary. Both Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs are flat out ballers at the corners -- outstanding in coverage and great at making plays on the ball -- while at safety, Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips are both tremendously athletic and physical, with keen, natural football instincts that make both fearsomely disruptive players. All four of these guys love to get physical, love to hit, and are great in support of the run - without giving up an inch in terms of their ability to cover. These guys are why I think Bo Wallace's ability to make some plays with his feet when nothing is there will be so important for Ole Miss.
Let me ask you, though: who else's offensive performance do you see as critical for Ole Miss on Saturday?
The answer is absolutely the offensive line. The Rebels are thin and inexperienced up front, something which I feel will be highlighted by the Longhorns defensive front. It's not that there isn't SEC talent on the Ole Miss line, it's just that there isn't enough of it.
The most notable talents on our line are right tackle Pierce Burton and guard Aaron Morris. Burton, like Wallace, is a junior college transfer into the program who had significant success on that level. He is listed at 6'6" and 290 pounds, so he has the size and mobility to work well in a hurry-up offense. Morris, on the other hand, is a gigantic sophomore guard with tremendous upside. The coaches have praised his talent and explosiveness as one of the most NFL-ready of all of the guys on the team.
What is refreshing about the offense so far is that the playcalls are, in a way, designed to minimize our offense's weaknesses. There are a lot of quick slants, swings, sweeps, and so forth that Freeze has put into the playbook as a way of quickly getting the ball into a skill player's hands, thus reducing the impact of an effective pass rush.
That being said, against this Longhorns defense, I think we are going to see early and often just how overmatched this offensive line is. As you know, Manny Diaz was at Mississippi State before Texas, so we are very well aware of his coaching and recruiting abilities. Saturday will undoubtedly be a tough day for our offense.
Something we have yet to touch on though is the quarterback situation at Texas. Ash seems to be the guy, but will McCoy have a role on Saturday? Is there any uncertainty in your mind about the Longhorns at quarterback at this point? Do you think Texas is made or broken this season by the quarterback play?
You get the sense Huge Freeze would have been a total junkballer if he'd played baseball. Spitball, screwball, knuckble ball, rosin ball -- whatever crap he could come up with to slow you down. And I'm sure you're right about what to expect Saturday: lots of quick hitting stuff, designed runs with Wallace, and other tactics aimed at keeping Texas from unloading into the backfield.
As for our backfield? Well, if y'all see McCoy on Saturday it means we're either crushing y'all or Ash has three turnovers and we're trying to spark a rally. I'd be delighted by the former, of course, but the latter is literally the nightmare scenario -- and I don't just mean for Saturday (although then, too), but for the 2012 season. Who knows how well McCoy would do, but the long-term goals of this program all revolve around David Ash's development, and to take two steps backwards and right back where we were in November of last year would be devastating.
With that said, I don't feel any uncertainty about the situation at this point. Ash has made huge strides in his decision-making and efficiency, and all that's missing is making the big plays downfield that the rest of the offense is opening up. Given the blitzkrieg Ole Miss seems likely to unload on the Texas backfield, those opportunities are going to be there on Saturday, as well. Is Ash able to make Ole Miss pay the price? In my mind, that's as big a question for this game as Wallace's ability to keep Texas' defense honest with zone reads, scrambles, and something-out-of-nothing plays.
About that Rebel defense, though: we're about out of time, but before we wrap up, give us the rundown on this unit. Previewing Ole Miss for this year's football magazine, I spent a lot of words talking about how thin, young, and undersized this group appeared likely to be -- amplifying the importance of this week's suspension of Trae Elston (pretty BS if you ask me). What do you expect to see from this group on Saturday night? Are Texas fans right to be bracing for a blitz bonanza? Where are you concerned Texas may exploit this unit?
I think "blitz bonanza" is a perfect way to describe what I expect to see out of this defense on Saturday.
The Rebel D is not going to beat anybody, especially Texas, by being bigger, stronger, or more physical. They will need to catch the Texas offense off guard and put them in a position to turn the ball over and, when all else fails, beat them with speed. There will be plenty of blitzes coming from all over the field on Saturday.
As you pointed out, this defense is almost woefully undersized. We've got starters on the defensive line who are 30 pounds lighter than an ideal playing weight for that position. We've got linebackers who are either short or small, if not both. We have safeties which could be interchangeable with cornerbacks. Of course this lack in size does suggest a level of speed and agility, something which isn't inaccurate, but in football, and especially closer to the line of scrimmage, mass is much more important than velocity, as far as I'm concerned.
Some guys to look out for up front are C.J. Johnson, Issac Gross, and Gilbert Pena. Pena one of the guys on the defense who is actually built to play his position, as the senior nose tackle is every bit of 6'4", 320 pounds. Pena is actually 30 pounds lighter than he was last season, so his first step is a bit quicker this season, allowing him to make some plays that he probably wasn't so capable of when he was heftier. Gross is a true freshman playing the other defensive tackle spot. He is a guy who is about 250-ish pounds, meaning that he is way, way too small for a d-lineman. Still, he beat out some upper classmen for his starting role because of his quickness and ferocity up front. He was an Under Armour All-American and played for South Panola High School, one of the premier high school programs nationwide, so he has the credentials to be a great lineman for us over the next several years. Johnson is a defensive end who was converted from middle linebacker sometime last season. He was another one of those high school all-America types, earning a five star rating on Rivals and a littany of offers from schools all across the country (including Texas - Manny Diaz loved CJ Johnson). He is about 230 pounds, so again about 30 or 40 pounds lighter than we would like for him to be, but at rush end he can be quite disruptive. He's incredibly quick and uses his hands well, but he has potential to be a real liability against the run.
Ole Miss runs a 4-2-5, so the linebacker position is not one that is highlighted so much in this defense, but there are some reliable tacklers and younger, promising athletes on the depth chart there. Mike Marry is, appropos to his name, the middle linebacker (how there is a "middle" backer in a two backer system I don't get) and he's basically a stopgap up the middle. He does not find his way outside of the hashmarks or in the backfield much, but he does his best to clog up the running game. At the weak linebacker and "stinger" position (the fifth defensive back which plays an outside linebacker role at times) are guys like Denzel Nkemdiche (Robert's brother), Aaron Garbutt, and Serderius Bryant. These are all guys who are great tacklers and play with very high motors, but are sized more like safeties than linebackers.
The defensive backfield for Ole Miss is deeper than it has been though, which is a bit of a luxury for us. Charles Sawyer is the leader of that group, with the junior safety having led the team in interceptions last season. He actually looks the part of an NFL defensive back at times. Cody Prewitt is a big time playmaker at safety, having a jaw-jarring sack and a pick in the endzone, as well as a handful of other tackles, against UTEP last weekend. Dehendret Collins, Wesley Pendleton, Cliff Coleman and others are the cornerbacks who rotate in and out pretty frequently. All of these guys are there for their speed, but Collins is actually a pretty solid tackler on the edge. Really, the athleticism of this group makes the defensive backfield a strength of this team.
Still, if the guys up front can't force a few mistakes or get to Ash early enough, they will have significant trouble covering the field against Texas' skillplayers. That's really where the exploitation part comes in for the Longhorn offense. If they can keep Ash safe, then our weakness up front will force our secondary onto their heels, and that's never a good thing.
I really think the gameplan, as mentioned earlier, will be focused on getting big plays out of the defense. Sacks, fumbles, interceptions, whatever - the Rebel D just needs to make big things happen.
Awesome info -- thanks, sir. This has been a damn fun week, hasn't it? Texas fans have really enjoyed it, and your readers have, uh... what's the right word here... relished the opportunity to let out their hatred of all things Texas. Hopefully it's been therapeutic, because -- I mean, I know y'all have a persecution complex, but Jesus Christ...
In all seriousness, I loved the Hate Thread, and I'm really damn disappointed that I'm not making this road trip. But we covered that already, so let's conclude here by filling our contractual obligation to go on record with our gut feelings about Saturday. I'll pretend not to be terrified about the wheels coming off for Texas after an early big play touchdown for Ole Miss, and instead insist that Texas' defensive line is going to be a difference-making unit in this game, that Bo Wallace is going to take at least one hit in the first quarter that makes him unsure he wants to keep running the ball all night, and that this is the week the Longhorns offense connects on some difference-making plays downfield. There's no question that I will meltdown into full blown panic if Texas starts the game slow on Saturday night, but if they can avoid that, I'll take my Longhorns to wear down Ole Miss by the end: call it, 27-17.
What's your digestive vessel telling you about the game?
The Rebels will score early. They might even put up 14 in the first quarter. With the way this offense works, they always look so sharp during the first few drives. Texas and Diaz will make some adjustments though, and the Rebels' inexperience will lead to a backbreaking turnover or two. The depth and power of the Texas lines will wear their counterparts out to the point that the Longhorns are able to cruise to victory on a pair of late touchdowns.
Rebel fans, though, will leave the stadium feeling good about the rest of the season. They'll be dejected after the loss, but they'll say "you know what, we gave those Longhorns a good fight," something which few fans would have said at any point last year.
Texas wins 35-21.
If you ignored us and read the second half of our conversation right away, head on over to Red Cup Rebellion for the first part of our conversation about the game. And if you missed it on Tuesday, read our earlier discussion all about Oxford and the tailgating nirvana that is the Grove.